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Ford Retail's 'green centre' has a far-reaching impact

The wind turbine casting a shadow over the car park of Ford Retail’s Dagenham centre is a strong statement of the London business’s intent to do things differently and in a more environmentally conscious way.

But it is also misleading.

On the day AM visited the Barking site, the turbine was out of action as the gearbox was subject to a recall.

And while the lead the site is taking in the way the AM100 group is managing costs and its impact on the environment is much less prominent than the turbine, it is having a far-reaching impact on the way its centres are managed.

The council-owned site in Ripple Road is a former bus depot constructed in the 1950s.

There has been a Ford Retail centre on the site since the 1990s.

Until three years ago, it was a used car, Rapid Fit repair and PDI centre for the former Dagenham Ford site in New Road.

Now across three acres, it is a fully integrated dealer facility, offering new and used stock, servicing, parts and accessories and crash repair, together with vehicle preparation and valeting.

It is one of Ford’s top performing businesses, with high volumes thanks to its association with the Dagenham vehicle plant and its position in the population centre of east London.

Ripple Road, in Barking, is also the most environmentally-friendly centre in the Ford network.

The opportunity for Ford Retail to explore and introduce a series of ‘green’ initiatives came about through necessity.

New Road Dagenham was on the A13, a main arterial route into London which was bypassed by a dual carriageway in the late 1990s. It meant the business was also bypassed.

Ford Retail looked at a number of alternative sites in Havering, Barking and Dagenham and finding a 3.5-acre site in London was not going to be easy.

But it recognised eventually that the site the showroom is now on was not being exploited.

Ford Retail renegotiated the lease with the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Council to give a longer period of time to write-off the planned investment and design of the new centre.

Simon Page, Ford Retail group property manager, gave AM a tour of Dagenham Ford.

He said: “We didn’t set out to be the greenest dealer in the network, but redeveloping a site of this size means you automatically fall within the scope of government initiatives, a number of which are environmental.”

To build a wind turbine, he said, “isn’t something your average dealer would consider doing”, but there are other initiatives that sit alongside that make perfect sense.


Page explored lots of renewable energy solutions and went for a small number of the most appropriate.

These include:

Waste oil burning 

It’s normal to have a waste tank in a workshop, but whereas normally this would be around 2,000 litres, Dagenham Ford’s is 10,000. 

“In the US it’s fairly common to use waste oil for heating and the idea was introduced to us through a US company and UK distributor Clean Burn,” said Page.

“We generate waste oil as a natural bi-product which previously we paid someone to take away. Now we burn it to provide heating.”

A different type of burner is put on an existing, ‘run-of-the-mill’ oil or gas space heater to enable it to burn mixed fuels.

The only unusual requirement is for a specialist maintenance contract. This costs no more than a standard gas heating contract.

Rainwater harvesting

Collected from the roofs and carpark in an underground tank, water is redistributed to washing vehicles and flushing toilets and other brackish water uses. 

“This is still fairly new technology to us and so far we have not been able to properly assess the cost savings of the new heating method.

"But logic tells you that since we’re not buying any fuel for heating now, we must be better off,” Page said.

The tank is buried under the carpark. “All you need is pipes coming out of the tank into the building, but you must not cross-contaminate mains and brackish water using components such as non-return valves.”

The on-site car wash uses rainwater and recycles up to 90% of the water used, including filtering.

Wind turbine

Ford Retail is going through data to determine its contribution. It generates electrical energy.

The dealer group is studying how much it contributes to energy useage. Page said: “On its own it contributes little, but in combination with other factors it makes sense.”

Re-insulated roof covering

The original bus depot roof was ply with felt on top. Page had it overclad with profiled metal sheeting. “It stopped the heat we generated being lost through the roof.”


Showroom light replacement

Across the network proposals are currently under review at Ford Retail for low energy fittings with potential energy savings of 42% and CO2 reduction of 250 tonnes – or on average 13 tonnes per dealership per annum. 

This is the equivalent of reducing the emissions from site by the usage of 85 cars travelling 10,000 miles a year.

“There is a significant capital outlay required to achieve this, so we do not intend to implement changes immediately.

"But we are analysing the data in more detail and doing site-by-site trials before making further recommendations to the Ford Retail board.

Environmental initiatives went hand-in-hand with major structural changes.

The site was completely redesigned, with a new showroom on the front, a new crash repair workshop on the back and completely refurbishing the building, taking it back to its inner frame and rebuilding it to house the service, parts department and ancillary offices.

The investment totalled £4.6 million and the work took 12 months.

The new centre was opened in July 2008 by Ford of Britain’s then chairman and managing director Roelant de Waard.

Financial support came from the Carbon Trust, primarily in connection with the wind turbine as the biggest element of investment.

It cost around £200,000, including transport from Canada and the specialist, screw pile foundations needed.

The environmental innovations lengthened the planning process by a month because of the involvement of the Environment Agency and the council’s environmental department, but not the build time.

“A requirement for all Greater London area developments is for renewable energy measures – with combined use of waste oil and the turbine – to account for 10% of our energy bill,” said Page.

“We are confident we can achieve that.”

But is ‘going green’ a viable option for dealers during a recession?


Page said: “While it’s a laudable aim in green terms, there is a logical goal from a purely financial perspective, particularly as profit margins are tight in the motor industry now.

“The consideration for going green starts with a need to keep costs down – essential in a recession.

“The economic climate has helped bring the costs down considerably, therefore the payback is much shorter than it was and so is more attractive.”

The payback, Page believes, comes in the comparison of doing nothing and the cost involved in making the change to greener technology.

“In the past, the length of time it would take to recoup the cost of investment was 18 months and you would think twice about it. Now the time is nine to 12 months.” 

Another important factor is the cost of energy which has gone up “exponentially”.

Ford Retail’s energy consumption has come down dramatically since the redevelopment, but the cost per unit of energy has gone up.

“Maybe our energy bills are not that different to what they were, but the incentive to change things is significant because of the cost for energy we would have been paying if we had done nothing.

We would have higher consumption and rate per unit would have risen. You’re missing a trick if you don’t seek to do something and look at the alternatives.”

So, the lessons learned at Dagenham Ford are being passed on to the dealer group’s network.

Low-energy light fittings are being piloted in several of Ford Retail’s businesses. 

Compact fluorescent bulbs are being tested in two workshops, Perry Barr and St Helens, and a trial is about to start at Birmingham depots to compare standard light fittings and low energy alternatives from both a cost control point of view and whether they provide enough light to service cars in.


“Every Ford dealership has the same lighting across Europe. It makes absolute sense and that’s the motivation for the Birmingham pilot because we would see the logic of rolling it out to the network.”

This year the Ford Retail property team began touring the network with an environmental check list.

“Dagenham got us thinking about the potentials. We started with little knowledge and learned.

"Some things we will look to roll out: the waste oil heating we consider for every new development.”

Developments elsewhere include motion sensor lighting in workshops.  

How dealers can reduce environmental impact

Many changes are simple and make common sense.

Go from room to room looking for the obvious, advised Simon Page, Ford Retail group property manager.

Are the workshop doors open and the heating on? Put in a control that switches it off when they are.

Are the lights on all night when no one is in the building? Put stickers next to light switches to remind people to turn them off.

“We look at a business about once a year, considering lighting, heating and electrical items,” said Page.

Do you have a printer on every desk or could you network them and have one on each floor?”

The initiatives at Ford Retail are sold to the centres through the benefits to the profit margin.

“With some of the larger projects I would liaise with the business’s financial controller to ensure changes made sense in the light of the cost of energy. We would then help with implementation,” he said.

Page’s advice is not to try to change everything at once but consider making a difference now and your business can come out of the recession stronger.

Dagenham Ford: Vital statistics

Rainwater tank size 16,000 litres

Waste oil tank size 10,000 litres

Building insulation qualities (the u value) improved by 400% as a result of the redevelopment

Waste oil heating expected to save approximately 80,000 KWh per year and around £3.06 per heating hour at assumed 35p per litre for kerosene. Total electrical energy consumption at previous facility was approximately 1,019,000 KWh per annum. Estimated consumption at new facility is now 890,664 KWh = at least 12.5% reduction, despite much larger showroom and extensive external lighting and air conditioning included in the new facility. Weblight low energy lighting is being trialled at Birmingham in the workshop

Support network companies Ford Retail used

Principle consultant Perpetual Energy who assisted with the turbine and waste oil schemes

Rainwater harvesting Kiwi Design

Architect G.R.S. Architects





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